The Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, HoCoPoLitSo, will launch its poetry anthology, Twenty Years, Twenty Poets, Volume II, in honor of its 40th anniversary, at a reception on Friday, January 23, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Howard County Center for the Arts. The launch will be held in conjunction with the Howard County Arts Council and Howard County Tourism opening of two exhibits, Ho Co Open 2015 and Poetic Energetic. The reception will feature a poetry reading, live music and light refreshments and is free and open to the public. Snow date: Friday, January 30. For more information about the event visit: http://bit.ly/1t2ETim
The Howard County Poetry & Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) has been producing live literary events for the community since 1974. Twenty Years, Twenty Poets, Volume II contains a selection of poetry from the variety of writers who have visited Howard County between 1994 and 2014, from the world-renowned Paula Meehan to the nationally acclaimed Mark Strand and Rita Dove. Distinguished authors such as Patricia Smith, Edward Hirsch, Mary Oliver and E. Ethelbert Miller have inscribed their words on the hearts of many Howard County residents; their poems are HoCoPoLitSo’s history, detailed in Twenty Years, Twenty Poets, Volume II. For more information, call HoCoPoLitSo at (443) 518-4568 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joining us and reading will be contributor E. Ethelbert Miller. A frequent HoCoPoLitSo guest E. Ethelbert Miller is a writer and literary activist. Miller is the founder and former chair of the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C. He served as a Commissioner for the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities from 1997-2008. He is board emeritus for the PEN/ Faulkner Foundation.
The author of several collections of poetry, he has written two memoirs, Fathering Words: The Making of An African American Writer (2000) and The 5th Inning (2009). Fathering Words was selected by the D.C. Public Library for its DC WE READ, one book, one city program in 2003. His poetry anthology In Search of Color Everywhere was awarded the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award in 1994.
HoCoPoLitSo is a nonprofit organization designed to enlarge the audience for contemporary poetry and literature and celebrate culturally diverse literary heritages. Founded in 1974 by National Book Award finalist Ellen Conroy Kennedy, HoCoPoLitSo accomplishes its mission by sponsoring readings with critically acclaimed writers; literary workshops; programs for students; and The Writing Life, a writer-to-writer interview show seen on YouTube, HCC-TV, and other local stations. HoCoPoLitSo receives funding from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the state of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts; Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County government; The Columbia Film Society; Community Foundation of Howard County; the Jim and Patty Rouse Charitable Foundation; and individual contributors.
Online sales of Twenty Years, Twenty Poets, Volume II will start after January 23rd event.
HoCoPoLitSo’s forty years are full of cherished memories. In this blog post, board member Laura Yoo shares a favorite recent memory from the 2014 Lucille Clifton Poetry Series Reading with Rita Dove and violinist Joshua Coyne.
I was wowed, moved, and inspired during Rita Dove’s reading and Joshua Coyne’s music this past October. Their performances and their talk, facilitated by HoCoPoLitSo’s Co-Chair Tara Hart, was engaging and fascinating.
But in my memory of that evening, I am thinking of three young women that I met after the event. They were simply giddy with excitement. They stood behind me in line to have their programs signed by Ms. Dove. They whispered to each other, “That was so cool” and “I wonder if she’d take a picture with us?” I offered to take a picture of them with Ms. Dove, and later they also posed with Coyne and his friend Emmett Tross the singer. These three young women were stirred by the whole evening.
While the performance by Dove and Coyne was phenomenal, it’s these three young women who linger in my memory after the event. I keep thinking, how can we get more of that?
Even as a professor in the English department at Howard Community College, I don’t often witness such excitement about literature, especially poetry, from young people. And this makes me sad. I just want to grab them and say, “Can’t you see? Don’t you see just how beautiful and amazing these words are?”
I think we’re all born with the capacity for creativity, and for poetry. Poetry is everywhere in the lives of children. Everything they do rhymes and the very way they acquire language itself is poetic. My kindergartener says that at school, before they eat, they say to each other, “Bon appetit. Now you may eat!” You can’t tell me that’s not poetry.
In his famous TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson says that schooling kills creativity, and I wonder if it also kills interest in experiencing others’ creative productions like poetry. Schooling has become a pragmatic and utilitarian endeavor. There is very little room for what are (inaccurately) perceived to be purely aesthetic endeavors like literature and other forms of art. But what many don’t realize is that there is so much usefulness in literature. Steve Strauss, a columnist for USA Today and a small business expert, tells us about a research on the impact of studying literature,
Keith Oatley, one of the researchers, said the reason fiction improves empathy is because it helps us to “understand characters’ actions from their interior point of view, by entering into their situations and minds, rather than the more exterior view of them that we usually have.” This improves interpersonal understanding and enhances relationships with customers and business associates. When you hire an English major, you’re likely hiring someone who brings cognitive empathy to the table. (from “Why I Hire English Majors” in The Huffington Post)
So literature is not only beautiful but also useful.
By the time young people graduate high school and enter a college course like introduction to literature, many of them see literature as a chore and poetry as a mystery. When it comes to literature, most of them stand somewhere between empathy and fear – and perhaps those two feelings are not mutually exclusive.
One way that HoCoPoLitSo tries to cure young people of this fear is through our Writer-in-Residence program. This year, Joseph Ross of Meeting Bone Man (2012) and Gospel of Dust (2013) is visiting high schools in Howard County for poetry workshops. He writes in his blog about the students he worked with at Homewood:
They were asking to be seen and heard, “tenderly.” […] While these young people had been through some difficult times, they used poetry to name their sadnesses and to face them. This is what the power of poetry looks like.
In addition, for many years HoCoPoLitSo has worked with Bill’s Buddies of the Folger Shakespeare Library to visit Howard County schools. This year, thanks to HoCoPoLitSo’ s sponsors and partners, middle school students from all over the county were visited by actors from Center Stage.
Recently, I learned that those three young ladies at the Dove and Coyne event were Nsikan Apkan and her two sisters. Nsikan is a student at Howard Community College with great interest in poetry. She even wrote an article about the event for HCC Times (check out page 19 of the October 2014
We also have young people like Katy Day who is HoCoPoLitSo’s Student on Board and a student at University of Maryland, College Park, studying English and Psychology as well as Faheem Dyer who is HoCoPoLitSo’s student intern from Atholton High School. You can read about Katy’s curious claim that “humanities ain’t like the Pre-Chew Charlie’s” and read Faheem’s review of the Dove and Coyne event for the Raider Review.
Young people like Nsikan, Katy, and Faheem will create and carry the future of poetry and literature in Howard County, in Maryland, in the US, and in the world.
In the next few weeks, I will share with you my interviews with Katy, Faheem, and Nsikan. They will tell you what draws them to literature, to poetry in particular. They will tell you about the future of poetry. And we will all see that we need not lose heart about the future of literature, of poetry. We have Katy, Faheem, and Nsikan.
Keep calm and read on.
— Laura Yoo
HoCoPoLitSo Board Member
Have a favorite HoCoPoLitSo memory? Share it with us through this online form and you may find the story the subject of a future blog post.
According to HoCoPoLitSo Board of Directors members and staff, here are the best things we read in 2014.
- The Shack by William Young
- Fludd by Hilary Mantel
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
- Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
- Loose Woman by Sandra Cisneros
- The Beautiful Things Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
- Inside Newark by Robert Curvin
- Breakfast with Lucian by Gordie Greig
One of my favorites was Dear Committee Members, a short entertaining novel by Julie Schumacher. The novel pokes fun at academia and academics in general, and it was fun to laugh at myself while laughing at the characters. A lighthearted book that I read over the course of two evenings snuggled up in my reading chair.
That is not the experience I had (and am still having) with Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea. Before you read the rest of this, I want to make clear that I love this book.
I’m having a year-long relationship with this book – I’ve been reading it all year mainly because I can manage to read only a few pages at a time (although this may not be a reflection on the novel but just my inability to concentrate at 11 o’clock at night when I finally settle down with a book). It took some time and some mental-doing to really get into this dystopian novel by one of my favorite writers. The novel takes place in B-Mor in the future. We follow the story of a young woman who ventures out of B-Mor to the “counties.” The prose is poetic. At times the story seems to move along a bit too slowly and the prose very dense. The narrative structure and voice strike me as experimental. It’s not exactly a page-turner, but perhaps we might call it a thought-turner. It’s challenging, thoughtful, and beautiful. It’s quite an experience.
– Laura Yoo
member of HoCoPoLitSo Board of Directors
One night in 2008 is when my relationship with HoCoPoLitSo began as a last minute favor for a co-worker. I said yes to serving as a volunteer at an event, and I am forever grateful I said yes.
That evening, I made the grave mistake of assuming what the occasion was going to entail and what sorts of people I would meet there. In my mind’s eye I had imagined Ego the food critic from the Pixar movie Ratatouille. Perhaps noses high in the air, shamelessly quoting pieces of literature as they try to “one up” each other on their knowledge base.
Boy, was I wrong.
When I first arrived at the event I met the many board members who were both happy and grateful that I was there to volunteer, and as the event commenced I had the chance to meet and talk to the audience members who were attending the annual Irish Evening. Among the audience members, the age range was as wide as the sea and conversations were varied from the intellectual to the, “Hey there have you heard of this new author?” I was in heaven! And I continued to volunteer for HoCoPoLitSo events for many years.
I’ve always been a “closet” fan of literature and the arts although I never quite found the venue to both learn and share my appreciation for the art. And now I had finally found my tribe, and I could come out of the literary closet and share my love of arts and literature with others. And no Pixar character in sight to date!
Recently when I was asked to join the Board of Directors, I enthusiastically accepted and felt as though the highest honor had been bestowed upon me. In the few meetings I’ve since attended I realize just how much work goes into every event, down to the very last detail and perhaps the most surprising revelation is how many events HoCoPoLitSo puts on within the calendar year. There’s constant planning, brain-storming, idea swapping, and meticulous work to bring as many events to the public as possible.
I was once told, “Anything worth having is worth working hard for”, and this is definitely an organization worth working hard for.
-Andrea L. Martinez
Member, HoCoPoLitSo Board of Directors Member and long-time volunteer
HoCoPoLitSo has a history of pulling together people, words and music. A forty-year history, in fact.
On Oct. 22, HoCoPoLitSo made history again at a celebration of its fortieth anniversary, a free multi-media event called “A Word of Difference: Rita Dove and Joshua Coyne Celebrate History and Creativity.”
For the first time, prodigy violinist Joshua Coyne and former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove shared the stage to perform works inspired by an almost-forgotten eighteenth-century Afro-Polish musician — George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower. Dove read poems from her biographical book of poems about Bridgetower, Sonata Mulattica, and Coyne played his own composition, “Fingers,” a plaintive work meant to embody Bridgetower’s doomed career. The program was filmed by a crew from Spark Media for a documentary of the same name as Dove’s 2009 book, and a selection of scenes from the documentary premiered at the HoCoPoLitSo event.
Dove, whose book was described by the New Yorker as “a virtuosic treatment of a virtuoso’s life,” explained Bridgetower’s story at the reading. First, a musical tot is discovered in the servant’s quarters and given a tiny violin, an overbearing African “prince” as a father showcases his son’s prodigious talents, the boy’s talent blossoms under Haydn’s tutelage and the patronage of the Prince of Wales. Then, as a youth, Bridgetower meets Beethoven.
Beethoven and Bridgetower collaborate on an intricate sonata, which the going-deaf composer dedicates to his “crazy mulatto,” according to historical letters. Then the story turns even more soap opera: the handsome young Bridgetower either insults or flirts with or steals (according to one’s perspective) a young woman that Beethoven has been coveting.
The elder musician rages, tears up the dedication page, and Bridgetower retreats from Vienna in shame. His career skids to a halt a scant decade or so after it began. He dies in the London slums seventy years after he played in Paris to great acclaim.
Dove read a poem about the father giving his boy “The Wardrobe Lesson,” so he’ll dress in bright colors and flowing costumes to highlight his “exotic” background. She read “Augarten, 7 a.m.,” about the early-morning concert that premiered the sonata, which Beethoven later rededicated to violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, who pronounced it so complicated it was “unplayable.” She concluded the reading with “The End, with Mapquest,” about her family’s trip to find the spot where Bridgetower died, in south London, asking at last, “how does a shadow shine?”
After Coyne’s two original songs were performed, one based on Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred” and sung by Emmett Gabriel Tross, and the second played by Coyne on the violin, Dove and Coyne sat down for a discussion with the audience, moderated by HoCoPoLitSo board co-chair Tara Hart.
The two artists talked about when they first met and how they threw back and forth improvisations on free verse and piano music. And Dove explained that she formerly played cello.
“I must have music in my life,” she said. “Poetry can make the language sing, and like music, can create an emotion that is speechless.”
Coyne talked about playing the Bridgetower sonata, about it being a dialogue between the piano and the violin, and how “it is a killer,” he laughed.
And they offered advice to artists everywhere, on which work was the hardest they have composed (both agreed, they were all the hardest), and to learn to relax about creating.
“This is not a race to be an artist,” Dove said. “It feeds something in you.”
Coyne agreed: “Make sure you’re not going too fast to notice things.”
Outside, after the cheese and fruit were picked clean, and the red-clad volunteers from Columbia’s Delta Sigma Theta alumnae chapter had gone home, Dove lingered for photos and signatures on her books. Across the glossy foyer, sticky notes papered a column with thoughts about the evening written by audience members: “DEEP,” “inspiring,” “awesome,” they read.
This performance was presented free to audience members to commemorate the first reading HoCoPoLitSo offered, in November, 1974, by the late poets Lucille Clifton and Carolyn Kizer. HoCoPoLitSo is grateful to partners and donors that made the evening possible — the Alpha Phi Alpha Foundation, Candlelight Concert Society, the Columbia Film Society, the Howard Community College Music Department and the Columbia (Md.) Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
To help HoCoPoLitSo continue pull together programs of this variety and quality, and make them available to all in the community, please consider making a donation.
Susan Thornton Hobby
A few weeks ago, I took a trip to the University of Maryland, College Park bookstore to purchase books for my classes this semester. I’ve done this enough times before that the process has become more of a script and less of a twisted Easter egg hunt.
While gathering my books, I noticed a difference in my book for psychology and my books for English literature. My psychology book is a large, heavy textbook. My books for English literature classes are book-books ranging from Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray to Sigmund Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria.
I never realized this shift in my schoolbooks from textbooks to mostly book-books, probably because it happened so gradually. I don’t miss textbooks. There is a part in Deborah Eisenberg’s “The Girl Who Left Her Sock On The Floor”, in which the main character, Francie, is looking at a textbook and wonders, “who were ‘Editors Clark & Melton,’ for that matter, to be in charge of what was going on? To decide which, out of all of the things that went on, were things that had happened.” Textbooks are subjective summaries on various topics, parading themselves as objective facts. Don’t get me wrong; I am a huge advocate of the sciences. There is a place in this world for science and mathematics, and I am grateful for all of the young minds pursuing those fields of study. Science can offer the closest thing we will probably ever have to objective facts.
The humanities, however, do not summarize. The humanities give students raw materials and equip them with skills to critically analyze and interpret things for themselves. In my literature class, I’m not reading a chapter summary of Sigmund Freud in a textbook, like I am in psychology. I’m reading a book by Sigmund Freud. I get to decide what Freud was like and whether his science was “good” or “bad,” and how I think his writing influenced the world around him. How else do we know and understand the world other than by a collection of subjective experiences? Why should I put all of my trust in anyone else’s interpretation of the world when I have the ability to decide for myself?
If the humanities have taught me anything, it’s that what we know about the world is always changing. We get it wrong a lot. Sigmund Freud got it wrong, but there was a time when his science was understood as fact. The humanities have given me the ability to step outside of social norms and question History and Knowledge. The humanities have taught me to never say, “That’s just how we do it” but instead say, “How else can we do it?”
On the first day of class, one of my professors reminded us of a Saturday Night Live skit called “Pre-Chew Charlie’s” in which servers at a restaurant pre-chew their customers’ food. He told us that while we read any text, he wants us to “chew for ourselves.” That is why the humanities are so important. They are teaching our future generations to be chewers.
Chew on that.
Student on the HoCoPoLitSo Board
For twenty-three years, HoCoPoLitSo has brought a writer into the Howard County high schools to read and talk with students for a few hours. The teenagers meet a live writer, not someone sifted into the dust of textbooks.
Authors of all stripes have worked with Howard County students: slam poets, memoir writers, Native American poets, Bulgarian poets, African-American poets, journalists, poets with National Book Awards, fiction writers, poets with a clutch of photocopied poems that were printed in literary journals. What all of these writers have in common is a love of words, and of the capability to spark and fan the flame of conversation about literature in English classes and poetry clubs.
Joseph Ross, a D.C. poet, teacher and activist, is the next in HoCoPoLitSo’s line of illustrious writers-in-residence, which have included Lucille Clifton, Jean Nordhaus, Michael Dirda, Roland Flint and Michael Glaser.
Ross, the author of Meeting Bone Man (2012) and Gospel of Dust (2013), won the 2012 Pratt Library and Little Patuxent Review poetry contest with his poem, “If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God.”
That winning poem touches on a theme that runs through Ross’s poetry — personalizing injustice. Many of Ross’s poems give a name and face to outrages like Darfur genocide, Civil Rights outrages, Gettysburg body counts, political kidnappings in Brazil. Ross also writes about Tupac Shakur, Cool Disco Dan (the graffiti artist who sprinkled D.C.’s walls in audacious letters), his veteran father and even Buddha.
“What makes Ross stand out is (more…)
It’s a new school year, and we asked teachers around Howard County and professors at Howard Community College what they are most looking forward to teaching and why. Here is what they said:
Catherine M. Mundy (Lime Kiln Middle) says, I am looking forward to teaching House of the Scorpion with my 8th graders […] because it is a perfect example of “science fiction” becoming “fact”. I love reading literature that is NOW – that students can relate to. […] Another novel I am looking forward to teaching is The Giver. While most teachers cover it in our science fiction unit, I am choosing to teach it during our Freedom Unit as an extension of the concept of freedom. The issues of social control and mind control are so pertinent in our world today – especially as you look at countries that face dictatorial control. It is a great novel to discuss the importance of being educated and having an education and not always accepting what is told or taught to you at face value. This compelling story shows that knowledge can be difficult, but “ignorance is bliss” is truly not the way to go. Living and learning through experience, regardless of how difficult, is what life is. Those experiences that individuals in a free society are allowed to have are what make us human. I guess I would be remiss in not mentioning studying Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I love showing my students that the human condition and human issues, emotions, and struggles haven’t changed much over hundreds of years.
Rita Guida (Howard Community College) says, I have two books that I really look forward to teaching. I teach A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini in Ethics in Literature, and I have been delighted with students’ reactions. Because it takes place in Afghanistan, it works to humanize people that we frequently see only as enemies. It provides an opportunity to introduce the sad history of the country and their own oppression. Hosseini’s use of female bonding reminds readers of the sacredness of family in every culture, and he has included heroic male characters as well as female characters. The other book that I love is the Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I use this in By and About Women, and like A Thousand Splendid Suns, it educates students on life in a country often in the news: the Congo. It also provides an opportunity to explore the oppression of the region, and the five, distinct female narrators show varying reactions to the events that occur as the Congo seeks to become independent.
Stacy Korbelak (Howard Community College) says, I’m looking forward to teaching the play Ruined by Lynn Nottage which highlights human rights issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m excited that it will be coming to the stage at the Everyman Theatre in the spring, too.
Rick Leith (Howard Community College) says, Fahrenheit 451 because it’s still so timely; Bradbury said this book is about television taking over our culture, not censorship, and this is something the students can relate to and discuss especially considering that television is only one of many distractions driving students away from reading in today’s world. Censorship remains a valid theme, however, so I’m also using the novel as an introduction to our Banned Books Week observance.
Bradbury’s best-known work, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, became an instant classic in the era of McCarthyism for its exploration of themes of censorship and conformity. In 2007, Bradbury himself disputed that censorship was the main theme of Fahrenheit 451, instead explaining the book as a story about how television drives away interest in reading: “Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was.” (www.biography.com)
Ryna May (Howard Community College) says, I am most looking forward to teaching Hamlet this fall. I love this play because I hope that students will come to see Hamlet as someone similar to themselves: a college student, a son, a friend, etc. He has powerful influences all around him demanding that he do certain things and act certain ways, but in the end, he realizes that he, and only he, is responsible for the choices in his life. And for better or worse, he embraces that. I also love Hamlet because I feel like I am still a student of this play, and even though I’ve read it many times, my students always help me see something new.
Elisa Roberson (Howard Community College) says, I enjoy teaching Antigone by Sophocles to the Ethics in Lit class because of the 180 degree change I get from students’ initial reaction and their reaction after reading the play. At the beginning of the semester I hold up the book during our discussion of course materials and I always get a response of rolled eyes or looks of disinterest. When I ask students if anyone has read anything written by Sophocles the response is this…cricket, cricket, cricket. When I ask if anyone knows who he was I get half-hearted replies involving the words “Greek, dead, and philosophy.” By the end of the play, the students are excited about the characters, defend the choices of different characters, and identify with character motivations. Once they’ve learned about the backstory of Antigone and the rest of the cast, the students cannot get enough. I’ve had more than one student say, “This play is better than anything on reality TV. It’s got love, death, betrayal…”
What are you teaching?
We’d love to hear in the comments below….
Recently, Howard Community College’s In The Spotlight TV show spent some time learning about HoCoPoLitSo. Check out what they discovered in this short segment.
A Word of Difference: Rita Dove and Joshua Coyne Celebrate History and Creativity
Wednesday, October 22, 2014 • 7:30 p.m.
Monteabaro Recital Hall
Howard Community College
In celebration of HoCoPoLitSo’s 40th year, former National Poet Laureate Rita Dove will read from her acclaimed most-recent book of poems, Sonata Mulattica, about historical Afro-European violinist George Bridgetower. Violin virtuoso Joshua Coyne will play original music inspired by literature. Coyne’s story as a young African-American classical musician is juxtaposed with Bridgetower’s in the upcoming documentary film Sonata Mulattica, which also features Dove.
Extended scenes from the film will premiere at the event, followed by a discussion with Dove, Coyne, and the film’s creators.
The book Sonata Mulattica has been described by the American Library Association as “a mischievous and sensuous cycle of linked poems that explores genius and power, class and race.”
Presented in partnership with Candlelight Concert Society, Columbia Film Society, the Howard Community College Music Department, and the Columbia (MD) Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Register HERE for this free event.